The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 17, 2000 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Jesus had a burning zeal for God's will

Sin alienates us, but Jesus came to heal all from misguided zeal

March 26, Third Sunday of Lent

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for Reflection:

1) How zealous are we about the things of God?

2) Does our "faith" zeal match that of the zeal of those in the economic and political realms?

3) What is your personal experience of "holy anger?"

Do seals have zeal? One suspects not, though we should not judge by appearance. Who knows what goes on inside the bowels of a seal?

No one can doubt that Jesus had zeal, a burning zeal for his Father's will. Whenever that will was disregarded or violated, something was triggered that resembled fury and anger. Perhaps many believers are uncomfortable with such an image of the Lord, using a whip to drive out moneychangers in the temple. What must have been Jesus' ire when people, living temples of the Holy Spirit, were in any way the object of violence and cruelty.

The Book of Exodus lists for us the ways in which people incite God's anger: killing, stealing, adultery, bearing false witness, coveting, idolatry, taking God's name in vain. Sin alienates us from God and from one another. But Jesus came to heal us both from sin and from misguided zeal.

A case in point: St. Paul. Prior to his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, St. Paul - then Saul - was truly zealous as he, in his (mis)understanding of the Jewish law and tradition, persecuted the early Christians. He also condoned the stoning of St. Stephen. Saul was a zealot of the first order. Unfortunately, he was dead wrong.

But after meeting Jesus in that profound religious experience, all that misguided energy and passion was focused on the great love and mercy of God revealed in Jesus. Paul would write that now the love of Christ urges, compels, "forces" him to proclaim Christ crucified, "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." Paul aligned himself with God's power and wisdom manifest in the mission and ministry of Jesus. All was now turned upside down like the tables in the temple: God's foolishness wiser than human wisdom, God's weakness stronger than human strength.

Zeal, according to the dictionary, is defined as "eager interest and enthusiasm; ardent endeavor or devotion; ardor; fervor." Zeal is fire in the belly. It's that rare energy that makes things happen, breaks us out of our comfort zones, engages us in risky adventures. Would that the zeal demonstrated in certain political and economic personalities be as present and active in the religious domain.

Zeal demands vision. Paul saw Christ in some fashion and responded to the Lord's loving and merciful gaze. Nothing, no trial or persecution or person, could separate St. Paul from the mission and ministry of Jesus. His life was consumed by this relationship and work.

The writer Junius, in a letter written in 1769, states: "There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics as well as religion." Perhaps this is not our problem today, namely, "mistaken zeal." Rather, our difficulty may be having any zeal at all.

Jesus has given us the Spirit to stir up God's gifts with us. Jesus intercedes for us that we may have zeal for his Father's house, a zeal so strong, if needs be, to consume us.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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